Monday, December 23, 2013

The meaning of Christmas, and the year of the little red sewing machine

For our family, the last forty-eight hours have been a bit of an adventure. As the result of a severe ice storm, we lost electricity for over 30 hours, and our property is strewn with massive ice-caked branches that broke off and fell to earth from the large trees which loom over our garden. Without either light or heat, and in the interests of safety, we had to move out to a hotel overnight.

As a result of the storm, things have changed somewhat around home — with some minor damage, and a refrigerator that had to be emptied of Christmas goodies — but, all in all, we've come out of the storm only a little the worse for wear. We were very grateful when, around 9:30 this morning, our electricity was restored, especially considering that some 200,000 people in the greater Toronto area are still without light and heat, and may not have power until after Christmas.

This storm made us realize how very grateful we are for our home — not to mention electricity and heat — and all those other things which we take for granted every day.

The situation got me thinking about the real meaning of Christmas, and about a story I first shared in 2010. It is my recollections of a childhood Christmas, when I was old enough to have some understanding of the state of affairs in our home, but not old enough to truly appreciate what it meant for my parents to have a Christmas celebration for us that year. When you are a little child you never imagine what life is like for your parents, and what kinds of challenges they might face. You believe your mother and father can deal with anything.

Although I did not realize it at the time, the Christmas of the little red sewing machine was one of great struggle for my parents. It was not until years later that my mother told me the truth about that time. During that Christmas season my mother was still grieving the loss of her father earlier that year, and the loss of a baby to miscarriage in the September just past. Also, the company for which my father worked had closed down, so for a time my dad was left without a job.

My parents were always good at saving money, and my mother worked outside the home, so they used their savings and my mother's salary to take care of our family until Dad found another job. Although there was little money for Christmas that year, my parents made sure that Christmas was a memorable one.

For as long as I can recall, my mother made several traditional Irish Christmas puddings each year, but that year Mom made only one, and it was much smaller than usual. There was no Christmas cake, and no little dainties or shortbread, the treats which my mother made faithfully each Christmas season. Although I don't remember having a Christmas tree that year, Mom said Dad did bring home a small one, and we decorated it with just a few of the decorations we always used. Mom reminded me of my insistence that year of including the little feathered birds that I loved to clip on the ends of the tree branches.

The real change took place starting on Christmas Eve. Before that night, on Christmas Eve we had always been allowed to choose a single present to open just before we went to bed, but instead of a present, for each of us there was a new pair of soft flannel pajamas on our pillow, and new slippers on the floor next to our beds. I remember being excited about the appearance of the pajamas and slippers because never before had we done this. After we dressed in our new pajamas, we said our prayers, and Mom tucked us into bed.

In the morning there were no presents under the tree, instead there was to be a present hunt. We searched around the house as Mom and Dad gave us clues to lead us to a present, telling us whether we were getting 'warmer' or 'colder', as we searched for the gifts. I remember the sounds of a lot of laughter and silliness during the search.

Two presents were given to me on that Christmas day. One present was a little box of lace handkerchiefs, embroidered in bright red and green, the other was my little red sewing machine. There was no pretty paper around them, no ribbons or bows to untie, just these small special presents as they were. I still remember exactly where I found the sewing machine. It was tucked behind the tall white door which led into our living room. I was so excited when I found it that I held it in the air and danced around with it. It's funny the things you remember about such times. If I close my eyes now, I can exactly recollect the bright red colour and the coolness of the metal of that little machine, as though it was right in front of me. Also, I remember the delicate sheerness of those handkerchiefs as I draped one over my hand; they seemed so fragile that I was afraid to damage them.

In later years, my mom preferred not to think about that Christmas. It was difficult for her to associate any feelings of happiness with the fear of uncertainty that came with the struggles of that year. For me the memories of that Christmas stay with me because the greatest gifts I received on that day were the feelings of joy and love, comfort and security, that my parents imparted to us. Those feelings were better than any gift money can buy. Even though my brother and I were quite young, somehow we understood how much it meant to our parents for us to be happy on that day, and we were, we truly were.

It is in recollecting the feelings of that day so long ago that I find the true meaning of Christmas. For me, Christmas is a time for feeling gratitude for all that life has given to me, and for expressing pure joy in sharing with others those gifts that no money will ever purchase.

©irisheyesjg2013.

6 comments:

  1. Jennifer, I read this post on the heels of this quote by Abby Aldrich Rockefeller: "I wonder how many parents realize that it is from them that children gather their feelings of security and happiness.” Your parents most definitely realized, didn't they? It is interesting how, when we were children, many things went right over our heads, completely unnoticed. And yet, the feelings we had about security, love, and family stay with us through the years. Do you still have your little red sewing machine? I would love to see a photo of it. So glad you're safe after the storm. I hope you and your family have a Merry Christmas.

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    1. Thanks very much for your comments Nancy. Always much appreciated. Rockefeller's quote is perfect, and as you say, the feelings of security and love stay with us long afterward. Unfortunately, I no longer have the little red sewing machine. I would love to know what became of it. Thank you for your Christmas wishes; I wish a very Merry Christmas to you and your family.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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  2. Glad to hear you have power. We're still out, but we're at my sister's and their hydro is fixed. Your story reminded me about what's really important at Christmas. Thanks for sharing it. Merry Christmas Jenn.

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    1. Oh Charlotte, I'm sorry to hear your power is still out; I pray that all will be restored for everyone soon. I wish you a very happy Christmas with your sister and your family and hope you are able to return home very soon.

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  3. jennifer, sorry I'm coming in late here and sorry you had the drama of the ice storm and being without power etc ...bearable here in the heat, not there when it's freezing.

    you have an amazing ability to capture a "moment" as you do here when your parents' courage wrapped you in love. How special they made that day when it could have been dismal. I had a little red sewing machine too, I think I wrote about it on my blog, but not with such effect.

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    1. Thanks very much for your lovely comments and compliments, Pauleen. I very much appreciate them. The storm and the loss of power — both literally and figuratively — certainly made us appreciate house and home. Moments such as these seem to have the power to evoke memories like that long ago Christmas, so I find myself grateful for them. Glad to know you had a little red sewing machine too.

      Cheers,
      Jennifer

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Cheers, Jennifer

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